When the "Seinfeld" episode "The Frogger
" aired in 1998, classic-arcade-game fanatics scoffed: The fictional high score that George Costanza claimed to have attained as a young man was 860,630, which would have more than tripled the then–world record of 260,490. Costanza's score was considered unobtainable for more than a decade.
But finally, late last month, Connecticut resident Patrick Laffaye
conquered not only the previous Frogger
world record of 698,850 -- set in 2008 by his gaming nemesis, Donald Hayes
-- but even the fictional "Costanza score," racking up a crazy 896,980 points
There are some -- including Jason Alexander, who played Costanza, and who released a statement to Laffaye via his publicist
that read, in part, "You beat a fictional character with a fictional score -- give your parents back whatever they paid for your college ..." -- who scoff at accomplishments like this. But we think that the idea of someone being declared the undisputed best in the world at a seminal video game is an achievement worth celebrating.
Asylum caught up with Laffaye to find out what a man can learn about himself and about the universe while on a quest to be the world's greatest at something.
Greatness Comes in Many Forms
Laffaye is undeterred by the haters who claim that attaining a world record at a classic arcade game is a waste of time. "You know what?" he says, in an e-mail interview with Asylum. "Time, dedication, and hard work -- that is exactly what it takes to become a world champion."
Those traits can of course prime a person to succeed at more than just gaming. But it's not necessarily about using something like this as a backdoor to more easily understood accomplishments -- nor should it be. Playing the game, and being great at it, is its own reward. "If the fun factor is high, and I can ramp up both my skills and competitive drive," says Laffaye, "then let's give it a shot. Otherwise, it's pointless."
Competition Makes Us Better People
While most members of the classic-gaming community have a bone to pick with the filmmakers behind the documentary "The King of Kong
" (more on that in a minute), the movie did get at least one thing right: It's a competitive world filled with some heated rivalries.
Still, Laffaye doesn't hesitate to give Hayes, whose score he surpassed in the record books (diligently maintained by Twin Galaxies
), his due. "I strongly believe Don is probably today's best all-around classic arcade gamer," says Laffaye, "[which] makes it more satisfying having snatched another one from him."
Laffaye, who's also an avid golfer and former soccer player, thinks that having a high level of competition is a part of what enabled him to succeed. "In any sport, I've found that you end up playing better when you have competitors who are equal to or better than you," he says. "If you have the drive, and you're up for the challenge, you'll become a better player."
Learn to Trust Your Body
Last June, Laffaye and Hayes did a "rivals" interview for ESPN's E:60
program. "We talked about having to be tough both mentally and physically," he recounts, and the physical requirements to succeed at competitive gaming are obvious -- Laffaye's record took him six hours of sitting still to accomplish. "For that reason, always be sure to hit the bathroom before starting," he laughs. "I try to eat a normal meal beforehand and usually don't drink or eat snacks during a game."
There's also a level of intense focus involved, but Laffaye likens it to an almost meditative state. "It's sort of like driving your car the same route to work every day," he says. "After a while you can space-out, daydream, and think about other things. You won't get lost, and you'll still reach your destination safely. Full attention is needed, but only in the trickiest situations."
Be Careful Who You Trust
Many people first learned about the competitive gaming subculture through the documentary "The King of Kong," and Laffaye says that he learned a valuable lesson through that film. "What was pitched to us as a documentary about rivals and video games ended up becoming a funny story about cocky Donkey Kong gamers," he says (Laffaye's scenes ended up on the cutting room floor). "They knowingly went into this project with the intent of telling lies, spreading garbage, and making some of us look like complete fools."
But the lesson he took from his experience with the film is also something that's helped comments like Jason Alexander's roll off his back. "I'm a firm believer that any publicity, good or bad, is ultimately good," he says. And we're happy to offer some more of the good kind, as we officially declare Laffaye "mantastic."